I regret not having posted anything until now, but frankly I was too exhausted to do so. The professors weren’t kidding when they said that London only has one speed: fast. The past three days have been among the most eventful in my life thus far and I imagine things will only get busier from here on out. Nonetheless, I’ve had a great time and am finally starting to adjust. Hopefully I’ll post some things about my first two days here later this week.
Now, on to today’s activities. It was the first official day of class and our excursion included the London Archaeological Archive (LAARC) and the Museum of London. The LAARC is actually part of the Museum of London but is set off a ways from it in an intentionally unassuming warehouse, designed to deceive potential thieves (seriously). It may not look like much from the outside, but what’s inside is extremely fascinating. Our lovely and engaging host did a great job of walking us through this mammoth archive which is, in fact, the largest archaeological archive in the world.
The first impression one is likely to get upon seeing the archive is that it is quite efficient. There is clearly a lot in there, but the content is organized and compact. Thousands of boxes line countless shelves; over 200,000, actually. It’s like my dad’s baseball card collection, only these boxes actually contain items of value.
One of the things that really struck me as we were touring LAARC is just how old London is. I mean, I knew it was old. Obviously England overall is known for its Medieval history. But I never thought of it as ancient. And it is ancient. It was founded by the Romans around 40 AD, but LAARC has items from the Paleolithic era. Our guide showed us a flint hand tool that may have predated the existence of Homo sapiens.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the tour was learning how London’s ancient history can clash with the modern world. With such a rich and lengthy history, it should come as no surprise that historical artifacts may be found anywhere in London. This can sometimes pose a problem when a modern building is set to be built on top of an important archaeological site. A recent example was the Shakespearean Rose Theatre, which was set to be destroyed by a modern development. Eventually it was preserved and a law was later enacted in London which forces developers to take archaeology into consideration. Still, all cannot be preserved. Modern advances must sometimes mean the destruction of history. Thankfully places like LAARC are able to preserve a portion of that history so that it is not lost to the ages.
Oh, and of course we got to see a lot of amazing artifacts. Here’s a truly stunning specimen:
Ok, so we weren’t allowed to take pictures. But my smartphone camera likely would not have done the artifacts justice anyway. Some highlights included an assortment of single-use clay pipes which could be dated based on size and shape (actually very cool) and an old leather shoe which was likely confiscated and mutilated by the law because the poor sap who owned it wasn’t of noble blood. And yes, the folks at LAARC figured all of that out just by looking at iy. It’s pretty amazing what they can do.
The next stop was the Museum of London proper. After a quick bite at the cafe we were able to tour the museum at our leisure. If you want to know anything and everything about London from prehistory to modern times, then this is the place to go. It’s two floors of nothing but London. The exhibits are displayed chronologically by era and are well laid out. Plenty of artifacts abound and there are even some interactive displays and videos to keep things interesting. Thankfully the museum allows non-flash photography so I took a few pictures. If you can’t make it out to the museum, don’t worry; I think I took pictures of all the best stuff. Note: the captions are mine and most certainly not the museum’s.
Seriously though, if you are at all interested in the history of the fantastic city of London, then this museum is a must-visit. What a great way to kick the program off!